May 21, 2018
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Canned Bear

By Matthew LaRoche Superintendent Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Special to the BDN

Rangers in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) are required to take care of nuisance wildlife from time to time. It used to be a yearly occurrence to have at least one bear problem on the waterway each season. I have handled quite a few bear situations over my 34-year career with the Bureau of Parks and Lands.

One particular small bruin that Jim Kelly and I took care of at a campsite on Chamberlain Lake was very memorable. I was actually working on the Penobscot River Corridor at the time. I was delivering some paint to Chamberlain Bridge at the end of the day. After dropping off the paint, we were having a cup of tea and some of Glenda’s goodies when we heard a knock at the door. A young couple that was camped at Ledge Point campsite nervously explained that a bear cub was at their campsite and wouldn’t leave.

I looked at Jim and said, “Let’s go catch it!” So Jim got some leftover spaghetti out of the refrigerator, and I got a garbage can from the shop. We hopped in the boat and headed up the lake. We stopped at the campsite, laid the trash can on its side, threw the spaghetti in the bottom of the can and waited.

We waited for about an hour with no sign of the bear. Just as soon as the couple landed their canoe on shore, the bear showed up. He was somewhat larger than we expected. He was a yearling bear weighing about 50 pounds, not a cub as the couple had explained back at the ranger station.

It wasn’t long before our little bear smelled the food in the back of the trash can. He was eating the spaghetti, but he was a little large for the can, and his hind feet were outside the makeshift bear trap.

Jim looked at me and whispered, “I’ll tip the can up, you push the bear the down, and I’ll slam the cover on.”

I nodded my approval of the plan. Jim tipped the can up, and I pushed the bear down, but before Jim could slam the cover down, the bear jumped out. “No, no, no!” Jim said. “When you push the bear down, you need to, hold him down until I can get the cover on.”

I told Jim that I thought it would be better if I tipped the can up, and he pushed the bear down; he agreed.

It wasn’t long before the young bear was back eating the spaghetti in the bottom of the trash can. Jim and I looked at each other; when he nodded, I tipped the can up, Jim pushed the bear down and held him there until I slammed the cover on. I sat on the can while Jim went for some rope in the boat to tie down the cover.

The canned bear howled and thrashed around in that garbage can while I sat on top of it. He bent the cover up and stuck his paw out, but I shoved it back in and moved my weight to that side of the can. Then he stuck his paw out in another location, and I pushed it back in again. I actually thought that the trash can was going to disintegrate before Jim got back with the rope.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally got the cover tied down securely. We said our goodbyes to the young couple and loaded the canned bear in the boat.

So, there we were — heading down the lake in a boat as I sat on the bouncing can while the bear tried to escape. Pondering our situation, I looked over at Jim and said, “It’s not going to be good if this bear gets out while we are going down the lake!”

We made it down to the ranger station without any major problems. The trash can was getting weak from all the thrashing that the bear was doing. So Jim went up to the shop and came back with a larger trash can made out of heavy gauge steel. We put the can with the bear inside the larger trash can — effectively double-canning the bear.

After securely lashing down the cover, we loaded the double-canned bear into the back of my truck.

Before heading back down towards the West Branch, I made a radio call to the game warden, Alvin Theriault at Rip Dam. I told Alvin that we had a furry package for him and I would be at his house in travel time. By the time we met up with Alvin to make the switch, it was nearly 11 p.m. Alvin looked at me and said, “I really want to thank you for this, Matt.” It being late, Alvin decided to take the bear to the near by Bear Brook dump on the Greenville Road and let it go.

The next day, Alvin got a complaint that a small bear had climbed inside a car on the Greenville Road when some people stopped to feed it. So Alvin went back to the Bear Brook dump and found our problem bear. He got the bear into the back of his truck, which had a cap on it, by throwing half of his sandwich in the back and slamming his tailgate and cap shut once the bear had climbed in and started eating his sandwich.

This time, our little bear took a long ride up on the Ragmuff Road. When Alvin got to the planned location, he opened the back of his truck, but the bear wouldn’t get out. So Alvin threw the other half of his sandwich on the ground. When the bear hopped out of the truck Alvin jumped in the cab and took off down the road. Alvin told me later that the last time he saw the bear, the critter was chasing his truck down the road at 50 miles an hour, probably looking for the other half of the sandwich.

Lesson learned: Please don’t feed the bears!

For information on the AWW, click here, or call 207-941-4014, e-mail or write to the Bureau of Parks & Lands, 106 Hogan Road, Bangor 04401

Waterway notes: New satellite phones are now available for emergency use at Chamberlain Bridge and Churchill Dam. These phones were purchased with funds made available though a Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund grant. The AWW is seeking volunteers and funds to restore a section of the historic tramway between Eagle and Chamberlain lakes. For information on how you can help with this restoration project contact Matt LaRoche at or call at 695-3721 ext. 4.

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